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Earth Power

The EPA Carbon Plan: Coal Loses, But Who Wins? 268

Posted by Soulskill
from the probably-the-mets dept.
Lasrick writes: Mark Cooper with one of the best explanations of some of the most pressing details on the new EPA rule change: 'The claims and counterclaims about EPA's proposed carbon pollution standards have filled the air: It will boost nuclear. It will expand renewables. It promotes energy efficiency. It will kill coal. It changes everything. It accomplishes almost nothing.' Cooper notes that although it's clear that coal is the big loser in the rule change, the rule itself doesn't really pick winners in terms of offering sweet deals for any particular technology; however, it seems that nuclear is also a loser in this formulation, because 'Assuming that states generally adhere to the prime directive of public utility resource acquisition—choosing the lowest-cost approach—the proposed rule will not alter the dismal prospects of nuclear power...' Nuclear power does seem to be struggling with economic burdens and a reluctance from taxpayers to pay continuing subsides in areas such as storage and cleanup. It seems that nuclear is another loser in the new EPA rule change.
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The EPA Carbon Plan: Coal Loses, But Who Wins?

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  • by Langalf (557561) on Friday June 20, 2014 @06:11PM (#47285275)

    I think you can be sure no matter how this plays out, power is going to be more expensive. In addition, if the coal-fired plants are removed from the equation before replacement sources of power are in place, there will be power shortages.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Ichijo (607641)

      I think you can be sure no matter how this plays out, power is going to be more expensive

      If you ignore external costs, yes.

      In addition, if the coal-fired plants are removed from the equation before replacement sources of power are in place, there will be power shortages.

      If electricity will be priced below market equilibrium, yes.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        If you ignore external costs, yes.

        Those "external costs" are unproven and in fact highly questionable. You don't get to just assume they are there, any more than others may assume they're not. Prove the case if you want us to take you seriously.

        Many economists have said that even if those external costs are all true, that's still not the real question here. The real question is: how much will mitigation cost in proportion to how much good it does, and versus how much harm it causes. Because make no mistake: there will be harm.

        If electricity will be priced below market equilibrium, yes.

        "Market"???

    • Well... there's the beachfront property market.
      • Right. You'll just need to accurately predict the new shoreline, and you, too, can sell overpriced lots in hurricane alley.
        • by Mashiki (184564)

          I dunno, I was thinking the Hamptons. After all lots of rich environmentalists buying in there.

    • by TWX (665546) on Friday June 20, 2014 @06:32PM (#47285427)
      Why is the government supposed to pick winners?

      I was under the impression that public health was a principal concern, not determining which industry gets to make windfall profits for the luck few that manage to hold stock.

      What I think needs to happen is for power-generating companies to not also own the power grid. That's one of the problems right now with trying to get residential solar adoption going- the power companies want to throw up roadblocks to anyone else putting solar on and tying to to the grid. The "buy" excess power at the lowest possible price (ie, about what someone would pay for power if they have a time-of-use plan, if they were using their power in the middle of the night when demand is bottomed out) and they want to charge solar-producing customers extra fees to even be connected to the grid.

      Power companies at least need their power generation units and power distribution units to be separate items on the customer's bill. That should hold true for all customers, even those that don't produce power themselves. Everyone should be charged the same grid connection price (relative to the kind of connection they have, a residential or light commercial 240V single phase center-tap-neutral should cost less than a 460V three phase industrial or commercial connection) and then their power's metered cost should be line-itemized separately. If a customer produces more power than they use, that should reduce the price they pay for their grid connection, and if they produce above and beyond that then they should receive payment, instead of a bill.

      I am fairly heavily convinced that regulation like this would do wonders for residential solar adoption, which then do wonders for reducing fossil-fuel generation, at least in Southern states where peak demand is during daylight hours.
      • by Hussman32 (751772)
        The grid is a conduit from the generating station to the customer, and is effectively a capital expense that is most likely paid for already. The grid operating costs are very small compared to the generation costs, and there wouldn't be a revenue source for a grid company if they were forced to separate (if there were it would be artificial and in unregulated markets they would eventually zero this value out). Note that because storage isn't really practical yet, any time there is a change in electricity
        • Note that because storage isn't really practical yet, any time there is a change in electricity demand, the generating station needs to follow the load by increasing/decreasing the fuel that is consumed and reducing the generator load.

          Not necessarily. An alternative is to keep the power constant, but change the spot price. If the price spikes, marginal users (aluminum smelters, bitcoin miners, electric car chargers, etc.) would temporarily drop off, freeing up power for others.

          • by riverat1 (1048260)

            Aluminum smelters can't afford to have the power cut off for any length of time. Once the aluminum hardens in the furnaces it's a long costly process to clean them out so they can be used again.

            As far as load following, all of the natural gas turbine generators that have been built lately can be spun up in a matter of minutes.

        • by Immerman (2627577)

          No, I'd have to say the best way for solar (and other renewables) to be adopted more readily is to make *batteries* cheaper. The panels will already often pay for themselves in a few years, but they can't handle the ever-changing power loads without batteries - and the batteries for an off-grid house can easily match or surpass the cost of panels. The system will still pay for itself, but it takes a lot longer.

          Which raises a point - there are definite advantages to grid-scale battery banks over having all

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by drfred79 (2936643)

            Perhaps it would be worth it to make the distribution grid a public utility - as you say it's already paid off, often with the aid of large government subsidies. If the power companies wont play fair with independent power generation and storage entrepreneurs then perhaps it's time to cut them out of the equation. Inform them the cables have been claimed via eminent domain and will be paid for at an amount of (materials - subsidies) amortized over the next N years. They still control the bulk of power generation, at least at first, and get paid the same rates as everyone else. It would probably raise energy prices at first, but I don't see any way to get off fossils that doesn't, and it would facilitate a much faster and market-driven adaptation period.

            You're forgetting the huge legacy maintenance costs. PG&E is scared shitless because the price they've been charging customers has been below the cost necessary to maintain leaky natural gas pipes. PG&E had to raise rates and is now undertaking a massive generational renovation process. The grid takes a constant life cycle maintenance plan. The fixed cost of installation is minuscule and already the risk had been borne by the installer. That's like the government saying "this Gmail experiment

      • by TapeCutter (624760) on Friday June 20, 2014 @07:17PM (#47285701) Journal

        Why is the government supposed to pick winners?

        The government is damned if it does pick winners (Solindra), and damned if they don't. These new rules target emissions without prescribing the solution, It has "free market" solution written all over it.

        My own government (Australia) is disappointingly doing everything they can to avoid even talking about climate change, however they are taking a proposal to the G20 to eliminate the $500M or so of FF subsidies the G20 nations are currently providing to the industry. They are doing so on economic grounds since Australian coal would be more competitive against other nations without the subsidies. They are however ideologically opposed to mitigating climate change. For example, they are currently battling the senate to dismantle the clean energy fund. The fund doesn't provide grants, it provides loans to commercial clean energy projects at reserve bank interest rates and makes a modest profit for the taxpayer. There's no economically rational reason to dismantle a profitable scheme that performs a social good other than to protect their coal mining mates.

      • Peak? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by stomv (80392) on Friday June 20, 2014 @07:45PM (#47285869) Homepage

        Peak demand isn't as close to daylight as you might expect in the South. In fact, many systems are winter peaking (central Florida and Appalachia come to mind). Those systems peak winter 7-10am. Sure, the sun is just starting to come up, but PV isn't going to have a significant impact on that peak. Similarly, peak is 3-6pm. PV produces it's best power at high noon. As more PV comes on the system, the "net"-peak will push to 4-7pm, then 5-8pm. Again, solar contributes to meeting some of that peak, but depending on geography it isn't always going to align as well as you might think, including in the south.

        • As soon as you consider places where there is industry consuming electricity instead of merely residential usage then you get plenty of consumption in full daylight. Slicing the top off that big daytime peak has resulted in a couple of coal fired units being mothballed near me and some expensive to operate gas turbines having a lot less running time.
      • by dbIII (701233)

        Why is the government supposed to pick winners?

        Because banks and private enterprise don't care enough to put up their own money.

        • by khallow (566160)
          But they do care enough to put up Other Peoples' Money. That's the fundamental problem with public funding. It gets used on projects and purposes that nobody would touch. if they could only fund it themselves.
      • > in Southern states where peak demand is during daylight hours.

        Specifically, 11AM-2PM. Human eyes see brightness log(n), so we don't realize that the sunshine is a hundred times brighter at some times than at others. It would suck if noon appeared to be a hundred times as bright as morning, so our eyes compress the difference. Solar panels DO notice that, and don't produce much at all during what we call daylight 7AM-10AM and 3PM-8PM. Same with cloudy days. What looks to be a little bit less bright i

      • by ultranova (717540)

        Why is the government supposed to pick winners?

        Because we're talking about vital infrastructure. It needs to be planned based on what maximizes benefits for the society, not someone's bonuses.

        Play monopoly with organic snake oil sales or something, not the electric grid.

    • > I think you can be sure no matter how this plays out, power is going to be more expensive.

      No, you can't be sure of that. Wind power in the central portion of the country is cheaper than coal now. PV is cheaper than market power in the Southwest and the Northeast now. Many coal plants in tUSA are 50+ years old -- they're going to retire soon one way or another. And, not for nothing, wholesale electric power is cheaper now than it was five years ago due to cheap natural gas (and, by the way, switching fr

      • by Enigma2175 (179646) on Saturday June 21, 2014 @01:25AM (#47287185) Homepage Journal

        The coal plants can still be "plugged in" and operated during times of peak load (weekday summer afternoons and winter mornings); what they can't do is operate much the rest of the time.

        The problem with this is that coal plants can't operate this way. A typical coal plant takes 4-8 hours to reach full power from a warm start and can take 24 hours to cold start. This is why we currently use them for baseload power and use other sources (mostly natural gas and hydro) for load following.

    • by Nimey (114278)

      That's extremely short-sighted. Eventually the economy wins because we have less of the pollution and other environmental damage from coal.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by rubycodez (864176)

        wrong, you are the one short sighted. the truth is use of fossil fuel has increased human lifespan, health, and driven civilization forward, far outweighing the downsides. Now we have alternatives but they are not yet developed enough to be viable replacement globally

    • by TubeSteak (669689) on Friday June 20, 2014 @08:34PM (#47286191) Journal

      In addition, if the coal-fired plants are removed from the equation before replacement sources of power are in place, there will be power shortages.

      When the Clean Air Act was amended in the 70s, coal plant emissions were grandfathered in.
      The assumption was that, over time, the plants would either be retired or brought into compliance as major upgrades were made.

      Except there was a loophole of sorts... plants did not have to comply with the new emissions rules if their upgrades were less than XY% of the plant's value. The result was that plant operators never ever made any major upgrades. Instead, they used incremental upgrades in order to stay under the legal requirements for coming into compliance.

      The end result is that most coal plants in America date back to the 1970s, specifically because of this regulatory loophole.
      I have little sympathy for an industry that could have spent the last 40 years reducing their emissions.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by niftymitch (1625721)

      Winner..... China

      The actions of the EPA are unilateral and do not address the
      global issue set. Worse they make it harder for US companies to
      react even at the glacial slow rated that global climate change
      implies. Because they are regulatory and not legislative the entire
      foundation of the EPA must be demolished, both good and bad, to
      address problems. The EPA has no constituency to be accountable
      to. The EPA could well be infiltrated by foreign agents.... we
      are learning abut the subtle NSA plans that

  • Nuclear power does seem to be struggling with economic burdens and a reluctance from taxpayers to pay continuing subsides in areas such as storage and cleanup. It seems that nuclear is another loser in the new EPA rule change.

    Make those Regulatory burdens.

    • by riverat1 (1048260)

      Are you suggesting we should deregulate nuclear power and just trust the industry to do the right thing? I think not, especially as long as US taxpayers are on the hook for any major failure of a nuclear power plant via the Price-Anderson Act.

    • by Hussman32 (751772)
      Economic burdens too. Natural gas is much cheaper than before (about half from 2008), and as it was the most expensive fuel for the major generating stations, its cost basically controlled the minimum profit obtainable (the plants are relatively cheap to build on a per megawatt basis compared to coal, nuclear, wind).
    • You do realise that regulations are what forms an economic market, right?

      For instance, how would a stock market operate without property law? This is not to say that all regulation are good or even necessary but if your are going to bitch about them you need to be specific, precisely which regulations/policies do you see holding back the uptake of safe and clean nuclear reactors? - The one that says they are responsible for cleaning up their own mess and cannot rely on the taxpayer to do so in 40yrs time
    • by dbIII (701233)
      They had those burdens earlier which did not slow them down due to a nice big money supply from the taxpayer. Banks and private enterprise haven't stepped in even in places where there are little or no regulatory burdens. I suggest you consider that before suggesting that lowering safety standards is going to magically make Bill Gates or Rupert Murdoch want to build a nuclear power station.
  • The idea is that we reduce carbon emissions to slow the rate of the effects on climate. They're not trying to pick winners and losers; why would you try and make winners and losers out of this?

    All of the non-coal fuels each have their own challenges, and this rule doesn't alter that. It's like free market, but with the addition that the cost of altering the climate is factored into regulation because a commodity-priced market is unable to react to a result with a 100 year return period.

    You still can't find anybody willing and able to properly store spent nuclear fuel, nor someone looking to invest billions of dollars and a decade of zero income in an industry which has a low-growth potential.

  • Missed one (Score:5, Funny)

    by roc97007 (608802) on Friday June 20, 2014 @06:19PM (#47285333) Journal

    We freeze in the dark.

  • Oy You! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Nuclear reactors stand and fall mostly on their own, what the government does is determine if you can open one. Because of our dear presidents own stance, we will not be opening new nuclear plants until he's gone. Nuclear is the cheapest per megawatt power source we currently have. Renewable are nice, but they cannot provide base load, they take a far longer payback time period than nuclear, they continue to advance(meaning the new stuff will be out dated before it pays for itself), they are only usable in

    • Re:Oy You! (Score:5, Informative)

      by riverat1 (1048260) on Friday June 20, 2014 @06:56PM (#47285577)

      Because of our dear President's own stance, we will not be opening new nuclear plants until he's gone.

      Perhaps you can explain why the two new units at the Vogtle Plant in Georgia [wikipedia.org] were allowed to go through then and even offered federal loan guarantees.

      (From the article): On February 16, 2010, President Obama announced $8.33 billion in federal loan guarantees toward the construction cost,

      Would Obama have done that if he was against nuclear power like you believe?

      Nuclear is the cheapest per megawatt power source we currently have.

      What have you been smoking? The main reason so few nuclear plants have been built in the US since the 1970's was that it was far more expensive than building a coal plant. Now planned coal plants have been cancelled because they weren't expected to be able to compete with solar when they were finished.

      I agree with you that we should reprocess the spent fuel rods.

    • Renewable are nice, but they cannot provide base load

      I have nothing against nukes and you raise some good points. However the "base load" thing is absolute bullshit, a modern city does not have a flat demand curve, so why would you want a flat supply curve? Coal and Nuclear cannot work by providing a flat supply they must have supplemental technology to meet fluctuating demand. They must store energy (say in a hydro dam) when it's output is running above demand and it must have a bunch of gas powered generators to prevent brown-outs during the daily peaks. I

  • by towermac (752159) on Friday June 20, 2014 @06:31PM (#47285423)

    EPA wasn't on the ballot.

    If they were though, I might not have voted for them, because they are such hypocrites. Get caught by them with so much as a dirty old eagle feather found in a ditch, and see what happens to you. Yet windmills in CA are up to 3000 Golden Eagles killed, and like 1 point something million birds total. Free pass. Doesn't matter if I love windmills or not; the birds are worth protecting with felonies and giant fines for regular citizens, or they are not. I'm a big fan of equality under the law.

    My power bill is high as fuck now. So are other peoples'. I can't think of a reason why the EPA would care about that though.

    Where is my Congress?

    • by dywolf (2673597)

      The EPA isnt responsible for the windmills.
      They also arent the ones to blame for your eagles, niether the enforcement of having a feather, nor for the ones hit by the windmills.

      You didnt vote for the military either. But you enjoy the benefit of their presence.
      You didnt vote for the IRS either. But you enjoy the benefit of their presence (like it not, someone has to collect the revenues).
      You didnt vote for the Dept of Treasury. But you enjoy the benefit of their presence.
      You didnt vote for the FBI. But you

    • by mattack2 (1165421)

      You do realize Richard Nixon was the one who signed an executive order to create the EPA, right?

    • Got any references for those "bird kill" numbers?

      Early wind turbines, built in response to the 1970s oil crisis, were indeed a hazard to birds. However new wind turbines are bigger and spin at lower RPM, so they are easier for birds to see and avoid.

      I don't know about the USA, but most countries also require and environmental impact statement before building wind turbines. These days, if they are proposed right in the middle of an area with high golden eagle populations, they don't get off the drawing board

  • by Scottingham (2036128) on Friday June 20, 2014 @06:35PM (#47285451)
    Of course nuclear power doesn't seem viable if you look at it's current state! All the reactors we have now were designed in the '50s. They use water as a moderator (ie thermal neutrons) and coolant, requiring complex assemblies of fuel rods and control rods. Thermal neutrons also cause way more incidental nuclear waste (irradiated steel cores, wires, etc). They use
    It doesn't have to be that way! The most recent design for a fast reactor seems to be the most legitimate and feasible new design to date. It's called the dual fluid reactor. http://dual-fluid-reactor.org/ [dual-fluid-reactor.org]

    It separates the fuel loop from the coolant loop. This has numerous advantages. You can alter the rate of either independently to best suit the current need. The coolant used isn't liquid sodium. Which, aside from not playing nice with air and water has a low boiling point and high neutron cross section. This reactor uses liquid lead as its coolant. Its so stable and resistant to radiation that the coolant loop can be piped into the non-containment area for power generation. In the papers I've read they mention coupling it to an MHR generator then a super-critical water loop en route to turbines.

    It is engineered to run at 1000C, which at that temperature, makes it possible to do pyro-chemistry with electrodes to filter out the daught products in line with the fuel loop. The separated daughter products are then sent to a passive cooling chamber (the super short lived ones are hooked up to the coolant loop where it contributes to energy production) where they remain hella hot for a few hundred years. Then they become inert. There are supposedly lots of valuble metals after about 90 years that make the waste itself a hot commodity.

    The reactor is designed to be a 2 meter cube, for simple production there are no bowed parts, only 90 angles with straight pipes. A reactor this size can put out 1500MW thermal.

    Couple this with the recent advancement of laser-based particle accelerators and you wouldn't even have to start with enriched fuel! The power required to drive the laser would be
    As Elon Musk would say (probably): Seriously guys, it's the 21st century, act like it!
    • by argStyopa (232550)

      " All the reactors we have now were designed in the '50s. "

      And why's that? Because the ecology-fanatics brought a complete halt to civil nuclear development.

      And who is telling us we need to get rid of coal now?

      • by meglon (1001833)

        " All the reactors we have now were designed in the '50s. "

        And why's that? Because the ecology-fanatics brought a complete halt to civil nuclear development.

        Those eco-fanatics" actually haven't: http://www.world-nuclear.org/i... [world-nuclear.org]

        The real answer: Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.

        ...but i really wanted to answer the last question you asked:

        And who is telling us we need to get rid of coal now?

        That one is incredibly easy: the people that want to save this species form fucking over the environment so much that everyone dies, although why they'd want to save your stupid fucking ass is beyond me.

    • They use water as a moderator (ie thermal neutrons) and coolant

      Surely a design like that would (or could, anyway) handle a loss of coolant fine, as without the moderator the reaction would slow down.

      • The DFR has a negative void coefficient...More heat == less reactivity, you actually have to actively pump the coolant loop to get it up to 1.5GW, otherwise it's in a very inefficent passive mode. No heat and the lead solidifies around the fuel loop.
  • Big oil and your standard energy providers win if our electricity bills are going up. They're going up by 50% now around where I live. They figure,"Hey one way to compete with the electric car is to make it as expensive to fill up your electric car as buying gasoline." and it will work for the short run.
    • by stomv (80392)

      If your bills are going up 50%, its because your electric company is spending lots of money on existing coal plants so they emit less SO2, NOx, PM, and Hg. Of course, they'll emit about the same amount of CO2. Utilities that haven't insisted on coal coal coal haven't seen substantial increases in rates.

      This is a generality -- individual utilities may have rate increases for other reasons, but very, very few utilities have had rates go up by 50% within the past 3 years. In fact, many utilities have had rate

      • its because your electric company is spending lots of money on existing coal plants

        There's more. The current trick in some parts of the world is spend a lot of money on "poles and wires" (they used this dumbed down term for infrastructure in general even when major parts of the cost are substations) with no oversight whether it is needed or not and charge that on to the consumer. For example in Australia there has been a lot built rapidly despite declining consumption which has led to a major gap between

        • And then our new prime minister can point to the high electricity bills and say "See? It's the result of carbon pricing! Let's dismantle carbon pricing! Let's allow the energy monopoly to do whatever they want!"

          • by dbIII (701233)
            It pisses me off immensely despite my wages coming in part from that energy monopoly.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    The rule change doesn't help (or hurt) nuclear power and so therefore nuclear power loses? That's an interesting line of reasoning. I suppose FIFA, dirigibles, and panda bears are also losers in this rule change too, then.

    • by stomv (80392)

      Indeed. Existing nuclear wins because the metric EPA is using for compliance includes a portion of MWh generated by existing nuclear in the denominator (something like 5%). Therefore, keeping existing nuclear online will help states comply with 111(d). Existing nuclear is a winner under 111(d) -- including the nuclear units under construction in GA, SC, and TN.

      New nuclear? New nuclear will never win. It's simply can't hold a candle to PV and wind in an unsubsidized market. New wind is cheap enough now, and

  • Rich campaign donors who bought this. Is that even a serious question?

  • When Obama first proposed Obamacare, he didn't jump in with specifics; he just laid out some high level guidelines and let the Democratically controlled Congress hash out the details. This was politically costly, because in the absence of specifics all kinds of claims were made about what was allegedly in the program, like "death panels". The house ended up passing something that looked like the plan Heritage Foundation put together for Bob Dole in the 90s. This was essentially the least they could do tha

  • by doom (14564) <doom@kzsu.stanford.edu> on Saturday June 21, 2014 @03:01AM (#47287383) Homepage Journal

    Isn't it obvious that in the near-term, fracking wins?

    Let us hope that the methane it leaks doesn't do more damage than the carbon emissions it saves.

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